Economic Performance, Human Cooperation, and the Major Histocompatibility Complex

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IZA Seminar

Place: Schaumburg-Lippe-Str. 9, 53113 Bonn

Date: 15.03.2005, 12:15 - 13:30


Presentation by 

Bas ter Weel (SEO Amsterdam)


Cooperation is important for economic outcomes, but hard to identify empirically. To identify cooperation we argue that mutual dependency increases when people cooperate. We use this principle to investigate the relationship between the genetic diversity of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and economic outcomes for a cross section of countries. MHC plays a crucial role in the immune system, providing protection against pathogens both for individuals and (through transmission) the group they belong to. Individual selection induces diversification of the MHC molecules. The prominent idea of our analysis is that when diversification is more beneficial to the individual than it is to society, evolutionary pressure will lead to a lower level of MHC diversity when individual success depends more on the success of others. Consistent with this model, we present robust evidence suggesting that MHC diversity is negatively correlated with per capita income growth and other measures of economic performance. Our biological measure of cooperation is correlated with traditional proxies, but the link with several indicators of economic performance turns out to be stronger and more robust.

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